Lesson Plan

Analyzing Immigration Primary Sources

Using primary sources from the Library of Congress to promote critical thinking about the history of immigration in the US.
Cary Z.
Classroom teacher
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My Grades 7, 8
My Subjects English Language Arts

Students will be able to...

Analyze different types of primary sources and then reflect on their learning. 

Understand how immigrant groups were treated in the past to have context for today's immigration policies. 


English Language Arts
Grades 7
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 Introducing Primary Sources

Propose to students that in class, they will be seeking to answer the following questions: What is the history of the US’s immigration policy? How does this history still affect today’s policy decisions? In order to do this, we will be looking at some primary sources. This is part of a larger thematic unit and will be followed with students reading current news articles on our Immigration policy found on Newsela and creating persuasive Animoto videos. 

Start by having a conversation about the difference between primary and secondary sources. Find out what your students know, and then go from there (my students had already used primary sources in their history class, so they had a lot of experience with them). As a class,  brainstorm the type of texts that would fall under the primary sources category (photographs, diary entries, newspaper articles, etc...). 

Then have them open the google doc with the directions for the analysis and critical thinking they will be doing in class. This document has the directions as well as links to primary sources from the Library of Congress for students to analyze. 



2 Guided Practice

Explain to students that as we analyze different primary sources, we will be keeping an "intrigue journal" going (this idea came from a blog post from Edutopia earlier this year). Students will reflect on the interesting, controversial, or resonnant ideas presented in the primary sources. Discuss with your class what controversial means before heading into the first activity. 

Have students click on the first link in the google doc. This primary source is a publication from the Immigration Restriction League. Ask students to scan the text, knowing that we'll read it closer together. See if they can figure out answers to the following questions (This comes from Stanford's "Reading Like a Historian" Sourcing activity):

Who wrote this?

What is the author’s perspective?

Why was it written?

After giving students about 5 minutes to see what they can figure out, come back as a group and ask students to share their thinking and the evidence they used to come to that decision. Start investigating the document as a class, reading aloud some of the larger pieces of text. Pose questions as you guide students through the text, like "Why would they present these statistics?" and "What do you notice about the author's word choice?" 

Distribute the Primary Source Analysis Tool developed by the Library of Congress. You can have students complete this digitally, or photocopy the PDF (I copied mine double-sided so that it could be used for the next activity as well). Ask students to take detailed notes for their observations, reflections, and questions. If needed, scaffold this activity a bit by describing the different columns: What do you see? What do you think based on what you see? What do you wonder?

Have students share their observations and reflections with a partner. Then ask students to share out. On a piece of chart paper in the front of the class, create a list of questions that students are wondering from this text. 

Then ask students to complete the first entry of their intrigue journal. See the student example here



3 Student Independent Analysis

Now that students have had a chance to analyze a primary source independently, explain that they will be analyzing another primary source that they will later be teaching to the rest of their group. Number off members in each group, 1-4. Then assign each number a primary source linked to the google doc. Give students about 10-15 minutes to analyze their image (these are photographs and one political cartoon). 


4 Reciprocal Teaching

Ask students to take about 5 minutes to plan their "mini-lesson." In my class, we have spent some time understanding bloom's taxonomy and keep a list of question starters in our writer's notebook. I asked students to develop discussion questions that would spark further inquiry of their primary source. 

Next, students will take turns asking their group members to bring up each primary source in the google doc. The student expert on each image will lead his or her peers through the his or her analysis of the image (using the Primary Source Analysis Tool), and then lead a short discussion using the inquiry questions developed during the planning session. Give each member of the group about 4 minutes to teach before encouraging groups to move to the next primary source.

5 Reflection and Writing

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After every student has had a chance to "teach" his or her primary source to the group, remind students that they are keeping an intrigue journal. Ask students to either open their journals or bring back up their google doc. Give them about 20 minutes to think through the ideas they discussed in their groups and reflect upon their learning. Give them time to reflect and write. 

Student writing examples can be viewed here: Student example 1 and Student example 2